October 31, 2005

A Bizzare Ride Through Osaka

"He who by reanimating the Old can gain knowledge of the New is fit to be a teacher."

This past weekend passed by as quickly as the short-lived pop and fizzle of a cheap firework. Though I will refrain from calling last Saturday and Sunday a "dud," they certainly weren't what I had made them out to be, which is yet another lesson on the cafeteria-like buffet of life's humbling experiences. We, as creatures full of expectation, lick it all up to the last drop.

As my friends Peter, Mac, Ben, and I made it to the Loop Line platform at Osaka Station just in time, I perceived people who were remarkably similar despite their costumes. In fact, many people wore the same costume (I even had a Doraemon twin, who attempted to bond with me by relating the fact that we had purchased our costumes at the same chain of multi-purpose retailers, "Don Quixote"--I wasn't that impressed). The train pulled up to the platform. Drunken gaijin (most with attendant Japanese girlfriends) flocked into the train cars, goaded on by some sense of revelry that the occassion allowed. En route to the first stop, I found it hard to breathe. My mind turned back to magazine images of a soccer crowd in some South American country swarming a fence and crushing a few of the lowest members to death. Ok, the crowd in the train was certainly not that extreme--neither in zeal nor in magnitude. At the first stop, people got out of their car and ran into a different one. Why? A bored excuse for retaining some sense of ritual (i.e. trick or treating would be a little too childlike and unfruitful) in a land where a Westerner's orientation--rules, reasons, methods, and explanations--are not part of Japan's homogenous social fabric. After about four or five of these "changes" (which all involved the same thing), I got bored. Thus I befriended two witches--aka Harumi and Asami. We talked about Japanese literature--mostly Natsumi Soseki--while being pressed against the windows of the muggy JR train. At Tennoji Station, everyone deboarded the train. Confusion broke out within our group: Pete and Ben got back on the return train, Mac and I got out at Tennoji (missed the train because the process of relieving ourselves took some effort in our costumes), and I continued my talk with Harumi. During the separation, Godzilla (aka Mac) took it upon himself to terrorize the couples of Osaka with a roar that struck fear into the hearts of all passerby. Finally, after an hour of waiting and various Halloween antics outside Namba station, we met up with Super Mario and Friends again. An unhealthy and mazui dinner from Royal Host in our tummies, we set off to find our car, our place to sleep, and our peace of mind.

In the morning, I felt as if I was somewhere in old Japan. Waking up to the smell of fresh tatami, the sound of birds, the feel of a hard bed (thin futon on said tatami mat), the sight of early sunlight through the 障子--or shouji (sliding paper-screen door)--filtering onto my eyelids, and the taste of cool, dry autumn air in an unheated room, I found it hard to believe I had been in a Doraemon costume in a crowded Osaka train the night before. Perhaps I was imagining things for a second--a scene from a different life, or from a Beat Takeshi film. I got up, opened the screen door a crack, and observed a peaceful garden scene of close-trimmed dwarf pines and some small birds playing. Then a van drove by, blasting an advertisement for some product out of a bullhorn (only five or so feet from the window where I slept). It was only 7:20am.

So now I am into a new week. Things will start feeling November-like soon. Leaves will turn a deep red, then fall off their branches. I will travel a bit, drink more hot drinks (the switch from beer to shochu and hot water is a welcome one), write more, study more, continue to expect things and encounter the unexpected.

Pictures to follow...

October 17, 2005

Full Moon and Kinky Reggae at Bagus

Those present yesterday at Shin-Wakaura's Bar Bagus from 3:00 to 4:00 witnessed my debut as a reggae drummer. Though I have listened to all kinds of music for many years--that of Jamaica included--I have pigeonholed myself as a drummer by playing jazz exclusively for most of my formative years. Now then, when Nori-kun of The Redemptions (Wakayama's ONLY roots reggae band) invited me to join the group, little did he know that my lack of experience would be such an obstacle for the seemingly simple task of laying down a solid one-drop groove tune after tune. Anyways, enough self-flaggelation. Here is a short review of the concert, which took place at the full moon festival last night.

Bagus is a quaint, family-run bar/cafe/performing and visual arts center (i.e. a vertiable hippie mecca for the greater Osaka area) which lies in the southern part of Wakayama City. It is underneath an old school 旅館, ryokan (Japanese inn), and the deck/bar is literally 5 to 20 feet from the water (variant with the ebb and flow of the tide). Here we see the view looking out from the audience's perspective, our special MC, You Key Man, on your left unwinding with hands on his head..

As the performance started, my nerves were at an all time high, but seeing as most of the friends I had invited could not find Bagus (due to its cryptic location and my even more cryptic directions), it could have been worse. After a very tense rendition of Marley's "Want More," my right forearm muscles knotted up. It seemed that all the years of practice were washed out with the low tide. Next, we went through our set with lots of energy, but wavering in the musicianship department. Here are a few photos from The Redemptions' show:

Rastafied Drumkit (courtesy of Nori-kun)

Afterwards, the festivities continued well into the evening. It was a great time--hot chai tea with rum, homemade Japanese and Indian food (even some mysterious tacos showed up), a full moon, a large crowd of friendly people, and all of this culminating in the lantern-lit, fully hippified and elegant performance of Haruko: O-TSUKI SAN
A wonderful way to end the evening...

October 11, 2005

Autumn Rain 秋の雨

Last night, as I biked through the rural district of Takamatsu in Wakayama City, the smell of wet earth and chimney smoke reminded me of my winters in Berkeley when I was a child. There are certain vivid associations that each person makes with particular smells or groups of smells encountered throughout childhood. The damp, freshly rained-on smell of wet pines and wet roads combined with the burning wood smell of chimney smoke that the Japanese describe as 香ばし, or kobashi, took my mind away from the tasks at hand--ride bike down street, stay upright, study Japanese tonight, etc. Instead my mind flitted away like a moth at the flame.

Kobashi fits this smell with precision, whereas any English combination would include a long list of so-close words like smoky, balmy, fragrant, pungent, redolent, etc. Anyways, there is a certain smell coming with the first real rain of the cold season--not the rain of early summer, tsuyu, which is quite tropical--that without fail produces the pangs of memory that I feel in some unlocatable center. Somewhere back inside me, though every year it is covered up a bit more, lies the first few years of Christmas in Berkeley--the dark purplish hills hidden in a dense, opaque fog, my eyes trying to see past Monterey Ave. to the next block. Is that a man walking towards me? Is it a deer? A bush? Today there is little fog in Wakayama, but the rain by itself is more powerful in producing images than an album of baby pictures. When the rain comes, people huddle inside to stay warm by the fire, and I am reminded of a home that I used to be a part of. Now in search of a new, habitable home--where I am to go next--I must continue to relive these moments even if they work contrary to the act of looking ahead. Time to throw another log on the fire, even while the first one is still burning.

October 08, 2005

A Song After Tea

Some days I wake up and see my life,
before me there is someone whom I meet
everytime I begin to run away.

Today there was heavy rain.
An upright river pounded
against the streets and buildings.

The soil too took it all in,
the grass saturated, satiated,
I waited for nothing more.

Now it has ceased.
Giant trucks slosh through deep pools
on the uneven road.

When I finish my cup of tea
I clean all the dishes
and put them on the shelf.

Besides me, there are many people in this world
always trying to finish something
even at the very point beginning, we sing:

"Tip me over and pour me out."

October 06, 2005

A Day in My Pants

What calls us to come back to the world, after floating so long out on the border of another place (which we could call the destination of transcendence)? After a few days of a break-down of my function in the world, I have regained some peace of mind, albeit momentarily, from this day of being hungover and reading the work of Flannery O'Connor.

The school chime sounded the end of the last morning test as I strolled off campus on a toasty October morning. Down the street lies ブラジリアンコーヒー, or in bastardized English, Burajillian Kohii (I think it is supposed to mean "Brazilian Coffee"). In this antique-looking coffee shop is woman who cooks a wickedly hearty tonkatsu lunch. I indulged my love for deep-fried pork in a sweet gravy-like sauce, but as I waited for the food to come, I read "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" by Flannery O'Connor. It is a very short story about a one-armed con-man who, by the end of the story, is undermined by his own "tricks." This man, Mr. Shiftlet, picks up a hitchhiker on the road (this is after he has ditched his recent bride--a charming, but deaf 30-year old "girl"--in the previous diner) and starts to rue his ever leaving his mother. I quote the little exchange between him and the hitchhiking boy just because it hits hard and suddenly, like a linebacker or like a moment of catharsis. Maybe y'all won't appreciate it or nothin' but here goes:

"'My mother was a angel of Gawd!' Mr, Shiftlet said in a strange voice. 'He took her from heaven and giver to me and I left her.' His eyes were instantly clouded over with a mist of tears. The car was barely moving.
The boy turned angrily in his seat. 'You go to the devil!' he cried. 'My old woman is a flea bag and yours is a stinking pole cat!' and with that he flung the door open and jumped out with his suitcase into the ditch."

Well anyways, I had something interesting to say today but it fell out of my head, kind of like this boy into the ditch.

"Intellectual insomnia is still quite a long way off." -Mortimer J. Adler

October 04, 2005

Happy Birthday!

Today Mujoukan (無常観) turns 1 year old. Happy Birthday to my blog! Sniffle, sniffle...

October 03, 2005

Dream Road

Should my dream road ever mark
The footprints of my way at dawn

The path leading to your window
Would wear out even if it were of stone

Alas, there's no trace for me to follow,
The dream dissolves and is gone

-Yi Myonghan (1595-1645)